By Laura Hasselquist
Agricultural education has always been about the three circle model: classroom instruction, supervised agricultural experience program (SAE) and FFA. As budgets tighten and accountability grows, agriculture teachers face the challenge of increasing the rigor and relevance in everything we do. Time seems to always be the biggest limiting factor in meeting that challenge, but there is a way: incorporate more science and math, a logical fit for all agricultural programs. Putting extra science into classroom instruction is easy and provides endless opportunities. Adding it to ffa and saes can pose more of a challenge, but it can be done.
A vast majority of today’s agriculture students do not come from farms or production agriculture, making those saes based in farming and production unrealistic for them to accomplish. Take some time and find out what your students’ interests are and go from there to develop a science-based sae. A student who likes to fish can do studies on what type of jig has the highest success rate or complete fish population surveys of different lakes. The students who work at the local fast food restaurant can study haccp (hazard analysis & critical control points) and other food safety protocol and put together a presentation about what their place of employment does for safety. Maybe a student really enjoyed a lab that you put on in class. Work with them to develop a lab that can be done on their own. While these sae ideas may not be sustainable for the next four years of a student’s career, it is enough to get them thinking about where they would like to go.
Wisconsin’s FFA President Alicia Hodnik, from the big foot FFA chapter, is a great example. Before moving to Wisconsin, Alicia grew up in the suburbs of Colorado. When she moved to Wisconsin, it was Lisa Konkel’s biotechnology course that got her enrolled in agricultural education. FFA has some great programs for students who are involved with science-based saes, including agriscience fair and agriscience student of the year.
Curriculum for agriscience education (CASE) and the agriscience ambassador teacher academy sponsored by dupont are two great professional development opportunities that focus on science-based instruction. For each case lesson there are sae ideas, ffa connections and ways to incorporate lifeknowledge. CASE is a great tool for many teachers. “CASE has helped our chapter better incorporate SAE into our agriculture program, and now every student has an sae and an understanding of basic record keeping,” said Tim Ray of Dallas High School in Oregon. “They also participate in FFA because of their saes, through proficiencies and the related career development events.”
The agriscience ambassador teacher academy focuses on a variety of topics, food and environmental science-type curricula in particular. Those activities could be easily adapted for an FFA chapter to do as an outreach project or for an individual SAE.
As we face an era of tighter budgets and increased accountability, don’t forget to incorporate science and math into SAEs and FFA activities. Through some creative thinking and professional development, it can be done!
For more ideas, check out the January/February 2011 issue of the agricultural education magazine on experiential learning.